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Reviewers Have a Responsibility to be Subjective and Biased


I've touched on this before but what with the Killzone 2 stupidity displaying itself these days it seems to be topical again, so let's rant. What I want to know is: when did some bright spark get the idea that game reviews ought to be objective and unbiased?

Let's tackle the first one first; objectivity. Some people think it's obvious that a review should be objective rather than subjective but hang on - what exactly does that mean? Well, an objective assessment of something is one that is free from being swayed by personal viewpoint. In other words, it's everything that you could say about the game without expressing an actual opinion. What you'd end up with, then, is a list of facts about the game. Stuff you could find out by reading about the game rather than actually playing it. To spell it out:

"The turn based combat was somewhat dull and lifeless." = subjective.
"There is turn based combat." = objective.

When I explained this to someone who insisted that objectivity was absolutely essential, they conceded but when backed into this corner, expressed the amazing opinion that 'even if they're not actually being objective, they should at least try to look like they're being objective.' To whoever this person was: you're asking the reviewer to cut off their own balls. Or whatever the female equivalent of balls is.

Why on earth would I want a reviewer to pretend they don't have opinions? What is the point of going through this merry dance of knowing we both have views of our own but choosing to ignore the fact?

The best thing a reviewer can do is explain to the reader how the game in question made them feel, which is the most subjective thing in the world. If they can convey that then they are being genuinely useful as a reader gets a sense of, for example: 'yes, that feeling sounds familiar, I think I'll like this game too,' or 'I don't think this particular issue would bother me as much as it bothers this reviewer.' It enables the reader to make a true judgement as to whether their opinions are in line with the reviewer or not - and eventually they'll gravitate towards the ones who are most in line.

So much for objectivity; what about being unbiased? The thing about bias is that everyone has some. I own just about every console and the 360 is my favourite; it has most of the games I really like this generation, so far. I guess that's one of mine and reviewers are no different. People say that it's unprofessional to reveal one's particular biases when reviewing games but personally I want to hear all about them. You see, what most people don't understand is that bias towards one thing does not equal bias against another. Newton's 3rd law does not apply to the concept of bias.

The fanboy's delusion is, of course, that if someone is predisposed to liking one thing over another then that means that they want the other thing to be bad, to fail. That is what we non-fanboys call 'a load of balls.'

Don't get me wrong, I understand what bias is; it's a predisposition to prefer one thing over another before what might be called a 'fair' assessment is given. This could be due to self interest ('I only own one console, so I think it's the best one,' for example) or any number of other reasons. Bias isn't logical, it isn't fair and it doesn't have to be because, as long as the reviewer isn't actually saying things that are clearly false, their own personal biases all feed into the overall impression of the game. It is sensible to pick reviewers carefully - someone with an aversion to Japanese RPGs, for example, is surely not the best person to review a Japanese RPG. It's just common sense. However, it would not only be futile but also harmful to cleanse a review completely from the reviewers own irrational but still meaningful biases.

If a reviewer feels as if the PS3 hasn't had enough quality games so far and that Killzone 2 is a diamond in the rough then I want to hear about it. A lot of PS3 fans understand that this is one of the make-or-break games for the system. If someone loves the Wii and a game comes out that exemplifies all the reasons why they love it then I want to share in their excitement. Yet some people would have them pull back from that and pretend that it's just another game coming out of the unbranded game factory: this is, for some reason, supposed to be 'integrity.'

Subjectivity and personal bias are the lifeblood of the reviewer. Without them they've got nothing, because they're exactly the thing that transforms a review from something anyone could have written to a piece of text that genuinely engages the reader about the game and gives them a true sense of what it may be like to play it. In the end, it's up to the reader whether the reviewer was a suitable conduit through which to garner an impression of the game.
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About KestrelPione of us since 4:37 AM on 07.16.2008

Age: 30
Location: S.E. London, UK
Hat Size: Medium

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KestrelPi

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